(I wrote this this morning. It's ok, goes a bit off the mark into my own semi-philosophical ramblings, but I think I get the point across. I'll post [or link to] the review of Pure Holocaust if anyone's interested.)
Metal, when it comes down to it, is not about distorted guitars, fast tempos, aggressive vocals, or Satanic/Evil lyrics and imagery. It’s not even about awesome riffs, cool solos, or the brilliant harmonic sensibilities introduced in the late ’70s/early ’80s. These things, in conjunction with each other, might make something which sounds like it could be Metal, but I am going to point out something very obvious which I’m not sure many people have thought about to any great degree: these same ingredients make up the best of NWOBHM, Extreme Metal, and fucking metalcore. Think about that for a minute: the metalcore of the 2000s has exactly the same basic ingredients as all good metal. That’s how it sells - it sounds like Maiden, Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, and, for some odd reason, Orchid, all in the same song. There’s something for everyone, there - harmonised guitar solos, an impressively wide range of vocal styles and pitch, all sorts of tempo changes, cool beats, slamming whatever they’re calleds (breakdowns?), and so on, and this is why teeny boppers hop on the bandwagon and buy these bands’ retarded output.
What’s missing, then? What seperates the shit from the good? The answer, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed by the title of this post, is the structure. Metalcore has no discernible structure when it extends beyond verse/chorus rock (which is extremely rare), but a great deal of NWOBHM, Death/Black Metal, and even grindcore has very well thought out and reasonable song structures. Rather than the ingredients themselves, it is the way in which they are combined which makes Metal great. As I mentioned in the Pure Holocaust “review”, the journey/return song structure is pretty common in Black Metal, and, actually, in a lot of other forms of Metal - listen to Altars of Madness, Don’t Break the Oath, or Deicide’s debut, and see if you can pick out how many times this kind of structure crops up. A possible reason for its prominent inclusion in Metal is that, as a basic song structure, it accurately mirrors vast portions of the lives we live: we start something, we follow through with it, and when we finish it, we look back at the entire process which has led to the point at which we now stand. A change has occurred, but that change brings with it the memories of its origin(s). However, we can say more than this: by extracting the human from the equation, we see that reality, progressing through points along the axis of “time”, is a succession of cumulative orientations and events, which must, by the laws of Nature/Physics, be based on every single orientation/event which preceded them. How like human memory is this very basic principle? Things happen, and the fact that they have happened remains throughout time, and actively affects (some would say it effects) the futures which arise.
I would say, with only a slight hesitation, that, as sentient beings, we are inherently aware of such orders in our Universe, if perhaps not all consciously aware. Thus, when something in our lives mimicks and sheds light on these processes, that object/event appeals to an innate sense in us; we acknowledge embedded, microcosmic versions of the patterns in reality which extend around and above ourselves, and, potentially, learn more about our reality through such experiences. Whether this is conscious or subconscious is neither here nor there, for the resultant enjoyment is evident (for, perhaps, it is the Joy of the human to learn and experience).
Metalcore gives us nothing but a random string of slightly interesting items to observe. Once we’ve examined them, we say “alright”, and put them away again. The best of Metal stays with us forever. I would say that it actively alters our perceptions of the world around us (and, perhaps, the world “behind” us [consciousness et al, I’ll get onto that at some point if I haven’t already]). Like a “life experience” (going bungee jumping, being entangled in a hostage situation, coming close to death but surviving), this music informs us about our realities, our lives, and our selves, and, as such, it is indispensible.